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The dry lagoon in Fuente de Piedra. (Video in Spanish) Salvador Salas

Malaga's famous flamingo lagoon dries up

Drought crisis ·

La Laguna de Fuente de Piedra has turned into a salt flat with few of the striking pink birds it is usually a haven for to be seen

Matías Stuber

Friday, 28 April 2023, 19:04

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The most important wetland in Malaga province and one of the most renowned areas of biodiversity in Europe has almost disappeared due to unseasonably warm temperatures.

La Laguna de Fuente de Piedra, in the north of the province, is almost bone dry. A lack of rain paired with higher-than-usual temperatures in recent weeks have turned the area into a salt desert, and this year it is not habitable for flamingos. These birds feed on plankton as well as algae and small crabs that they would usually find in the water. Instead the area has become a mudflat, with a very high salinity level. And with the lagoon so dry, these birds do not even land.

The lagoon has a perimeter of 18 kilometres, and covers 1,400 hectares. Until 1950, salt extraction was carried out in this wetland area. A fact that can now be fully appreciated with the lack of water. As can be seen in the photographs, a walk around the lagoon now resembles more a hike through a snowy landscape than a home for the typically thousands of passing birds, which would usually arrive at the beginning of spring to breed here.

Salvador Salas
Imagen principal - Malaga's famous flamingo lagoon dries up
Imagen secundaria 1 - Malaga's famous flamingo lagoon dries up
Imagen secundaria 2 - Malaga's famous flamingo lagoon dries up

The famous pink birds have helped turn this municipality of 2,500 inhabitants into a mecca for ornithologists. But it’s not just the flamingos there is concern about. Reserve worker Tania Gómez warned that the drought also endangers birds at risk such as the marbled teal or the white-headed duck, which had their refuge here. “Without water there is no life,” she said.

A tour with her through the routes that lead to the main lagoon reveals the consequences that the absence of water has for fauna.

Where there should be between 8,000 and 9,000 flamingos at the moment, there are barely a hundred paddling in a puddle, the only bit of water at the vast site - thanks to a nearby water treatment plant.

“In some years when there has been abundant rainfall, there have been up to 20,000 flamingos here,” Gómez said.

No ringing this year

Mayor of Fuente de Piedra, Siro Pachón, confirmed to SUR that it was already clear there would be no traditional ringing this year, following the birth of the flamingo offspring, which usually takes place in July or August. It is a unique spectacle that attracts scientists, volunteers and bird watchers from all around the world.

Last year there were 3,700 flamingo chicks born at the Fuente de Piedra lagoon, the first year the young birds had been ringed there since 2019, due to the pandemic in 2020 and a similar lack of water in the lagoon in 2021.

This year’s drought crisis is already providing some worrying images that warn of severe consequences for the province of Malaga. The Fuente de Piedra lagoon, now turned into a salt desert, is perhaps one of the most striking.

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